Changing ‘ukulele strings takes some practice, but once you get it dialed in, it’s something to look forward to.
New strings have a bright, fresh sound, tune easier, and don’t have the “worn” feel of old strings. So open up a pack of your favorite strings and read on to see the step-by-step directions.
Time To Change Your Strings?
How often you change your ‘ukulele’s strings is a matter of preference.
Some people change them every couple of weeks, some every couple of years. That said, here are some guidelines to help you know if your ‘ukulele deserves some new strings.
- When they become hard to tune. I find that I have to tune an old set of strings much more often than a new one. Even when I can get them in tune, they still don’t sound quite right and the intonation is off.
- When one breaks. If a string breaks, unless the set is brand new, I would just replace all of the strings. If the same string breaks twice in a row in the same place, examine your ‘ukulele in that location (usually the nut or saddle). There might be a sharp edge or other outside force that is weakening the string. This has nothing to do with the age of the strings and should be handled before you put on a new set.
- When a string is showing excessive wear. A little bit of love-wear is okay, but when the integrity of the string is questionable, it’s time to change. Besides being much more likely to buzz, a frayed string that snaps while you are playing hurts like crazy if it hits your hand on the way by.
There are hundreds of kinds of strings. If you’re not sure which to choose, I recommend checking out my page about different types of strings.
Changing The Strings
Here goes… Time to take the plunge!
Before we get started, be sure you have these things handy:
All you REALLY need to change strings are: strings! Don’t take off your old strings until you have new ones to replace them with!
Optional tools that make your life easier:
A string winder will save you a lot of time winding and unwinding the tuning pegs. I’ve just got a low budget one, but some of the fancy models like those by Planet Waves have string cutters too. Chuck Moore has one that attaches to a drill – the really efficient way!
Nail clippers: By far the best way to cut nylon and nylon-wound strings.
A tuner. Unless you want to guess where A=440 is (or have perfect pitch), keep one of these handy.
1. Remove the Old Strings:
Loosen the tuning machine until you can pull the string out of the machine head.
Then undo the knot at the bridge and slide the string out of the bridge hole, making sure to keep the string from scratching the surface of your ‘ukulele.
I like to cut the strings close to the bridge and put my hand on the string over the sound hole. That way there isn’t enough string length to damage anything near the bridge and your hand keeps the long end tame.
I wouldn’t do this on a sensitive vintage instrument since the sudden tension change might damage the construction.
All the strings at once?
Sometimes to clean the fretboard or make the process easier, you might want to take all the strings off of your ‘ukulele before restringing.
This is usually fine, but should be done with caution if you have a vintage ‘ukulele that might respond negatively to being completely freed from strings. Use your judgement.
I like to change the strings two at a time so I can clean one half of the fretboard and then the other. For me this is the perfect compromise.
2. Tie at the Bridge
Take the new string out of its pack and feed one end through the hole in the bridge. There should be two or three inches sticking out toward the ‘ukulele’s base.
Next tie a knot like this:
(I love the monster bridge and rope demonstration, but I always reverse the wind direction that’s shown here and start on the left. The only difference is that the loose end will face down instead of up – less chance of poking yourself as you play.)
Bridge knot breakdown:
Feed the end of the string through the bridge hole so that there are a few inches protruding.
Pull this short end of the string over the top of the bridge, back towards the nut.
From the left side, wrap it under and around the long end of the string and pull it to your right so it points away from the soundhole and neck.
Now pull the short end of string towards you and over itself.
Feed it under and between the bridge and first loop.
Pull it back over towards you and repeat the last step again.
The last “under” should be set in place so that the short loose end finishes over the rear corner of the bridge. It will point at the ground when you hold the ukulele.
Sometimes only one loop is necessary or possible for large wound C or low-G strings.
While holding the bridge knot in place, pull on the long end of the string so that the knot tightens up.
If you have bridge pins:
- Loosen the strings and pull the pins and old strings out.
- Tie a stop-knot on one end of the new string.
- Feed it into the hole in the bridge. If there is a little slot you can rest the string in, do so.
- Fit a bridge pin into the hole snugly, but not too tight (if there is a groove on one side of the pin, line this up with the string).
- Pull on the long end of the string until you feel the knot settle into its home in the pin.
- Push the pin in the rest of the way into the hole and continue pulling the long end until everything is tight.
5. Secure at Headstock
Pull the long end of the string across the fretboard and up the center of the headstock (in between the two sets of tuning pegs).
Pull the string through the hole in the tuning peg. How tight you pull the string at this stage depends on the string gauge. I pull the A string as tight as I can, but give myself a couple inches of flab (with the string pulled up off the freboard) with the low-G string. I do this because the fat strings pull up to tension faster than the skinny strings. I like to have as few wraps as possible with a minimum of one wrap so that the string doesn’t slip.
- For the smaller strings you might need to tie a knot at the tuning peg to stop the string from slipping. Check out Ukulele’s by Kawika for a diagram of the best knot (fig 4).
6. Now place the string in the correct nut-slot and start winding the string onto the tuning peg. The first time around, the string should go over the protruding end to prevent slippage. Continue winding the string neatly under the protruding end of the string until up to pitch.
7. Repeat steps 1-6 for the rest of the strings on your ukulele.
8. Now perform a final tune up and clean up your old strings. (If you can find them. The clear Worths that I use are almost invisible.)
- You can pull the strings off the fretboard an inch or two to get them stretched and tight around the tuning pegs (go easy at first until know how much the string can take). Stretch and tune up, stretch and tune up, until the string doesn’t go flat when you pull on it. (This will happen by itself over the period of a few days to a few weeks, but doing this speeds things up)
- I also recommend clipping off the loose ends of the strings so that only around a 1/4-1/2 of an inch is left sticking out. I’ve seen guys who can wind up the extra string really nice on the headstock, but I haven’t figured out how they do it yet, so for me it’s an eye hazard with those long ends poking out at odd angles.
To learn about what strings to use or how to tune:
Aldrine does a good job explaining how to change strings in this video: